Born in the brain of Marvel reader Randy Schueller in 1982 and purchased for a song ($220) by Marvel EIC Mike Shooter, Venom began as an evil costume, cool black duds for Spidey in secret wars, and evolved to become a snarling steroidal revenge fantasy. In later years. Tamer years, Venom has become a stoic hand-me-down currently worn by all-American Veteran and former Spider-bully Flash Thompson.
Yet for me. For many, Venom was always one of the prototypical anti-heroes of the late 80s early 90s. That’s his fondest incarnation and how he’s most vibrantly remembered. In many ways Venom was the 90s; the dark, flawed, muscular to bursting horror hero that popped up as an antidote to the bright progenitors of silver age.
He was the inevitable conclusion of 1986’s revolution in storytelling – a hero who was layered, schizophrenic and not entirely good. The genesis of heroes such as Spawn, Vengeance and every one of Marvel’s subsequent dilutions were all off the back of Venom’s blistering popularity.
So it’s a painful, one could say a separation anxiety, to see Venom wrenched so far from his roots and his core popularity. To become a much watered down Space Knight. A safety option by comparison.
Like any reader I understand the necessity for character re-invention to keep things fresh. Venom has so rarely flourished series-wise as a stand-alone character. Much like his fringe brethren Ghost-Rider, Sabretooth, Lobo etc. he seems much better suited to limited activities due to the bombastic, continual ante upping required by the nature of his character.
His series and mini’s having been historical cancellation victims might be the catalyst for Venom’s change of direction, but it’s one that seems to have sacrificed the very nature of what makes the character so popular. Venom isn’t someone’s pet. He’s not just black armour with a control switch. Venom is humanity’s dark side given form. A shadow creature. A revenge facilitator. The whisperings in our brain we’re too civilised to talk about.
Venom is, as Eddie Brock; how we feel when we’ve been wronged. The nasty things we think about doing in retaliation. His hate for Spider-Man drove his formative years. He wants to eat your brains, and in moderna the whisperings of the dark-side, the symbiotic lure that tainted Eddie have been lost – Mac Gargan, Flash Thompson – no one else has been as in love with the idea of vengeful justice as Eddie.
The costume looks cool – razor teeth, busting veins and slobbering snake tongue menace. But it’s Venom’s motivations that are the hook. He’s a character who walks the line; he does bad things for good reasons. Sometimes he just does bad things. His hate and sense of warped justice are his guide.
A former vet could have been an interesting host. A man who did sketchy things in the heat of war. But Flash put up a struggle. He proved too valiant. Venom isn’t valiant. He’s a rage fuelled bastard who enjoys doing nasty things. The symbiote isn’t some leashed dog; it’s the worst incarnation of human fear on the back of a man struggling to point it at the most warrant worthy target.
Eddie indulged, but always to a point. There was love and conflict with his other. Flash used the costume as a weapon. Eddie was the weapon.
In recent years Venom’s core has underwent a dramatic paradigm shift. Below is my method for saving private Venom. Returning a once ground-breaking, unconventional and unsettling character to his roots.
Let me know what you think.
- The set-up – AKA Flash needs to go: Flash Thompson’s Venom battles Skrull Extremists intent on bombing the US from low orbit, distributing chemicals into the atmosphere over the US. He temporarily disables their chemical detonator only to be blown into earth orbit by the Skrull’s advanced sonic weapons. The same weapons short out Venom’s control nanites. The symbiote expands to create a slow descent and he crashes into an abandoned building opposite a small mosque on a Brooklyn underpass.
- New Hosting: Enter our new (anti) hero Ehim Baksh – his family originally from the Middle-East – are now part of Brooklyn’s business community. Since the Brooklyn Bombing’s Ehim has been the target of bullying in School. He’s regularly harassed due to his religion and his parents (dominant father, doting mother) feel they are losing touch with him. His older sister Aala wants to baby him, but he’s slipping further into anti-social behaviour.
- The Lure: Ehim is separated after school, isolated in a nearby basketball court and beaten badly by school alpha dog Jacob ‘Cob’ Fuller and his mob. Meanwhile an earth-bound symbiote slithers off of an unconscious Flash. Flash drops a tracking beacon that he used to tag the Skrull’s and the symbiote absorbs it on leaving.
- Return of the revenge fantasy: Later – Ehim kneels on his prayer mat in a corner of the small mosque. He prays for revenge on the men that have beaten him and reduced him to this. A dark substance pours from the ceiling above him and Ehim screams as he’s engulfed. Then arises. Say hello to new Venom. He has a lot in common with original Venom.
- Questionable heroics: Cob splits from his gang and takes a short cut between some alleys. Ehim is waiting in his new guise. Dropping from the shadows – gripping Cob by the throat, a jagged symbiote maw threatens to engulf Cob’s head – it’s not so nice being the victim – Ehim wants to eat Cob’s brains. Cob screams – a taloned hand muffles him and draws him close. We are not amused.
- The real meat: Cob’s fate is uncertain – Ehim at home – on the fire escape outside of his window converses with the symbiote over past dealings. It floods his memories with his previous owner’s last mission. Ehim, feeling empowered to do something about injustice, driven by hate and the stereotypes that dog him decides to take action. His sister checks in on him as she passes his room, and Ehim snarls a response, terrifying her.
- Tracking: Finding the Skrull’s posed as a family with a picnic basket setting up in Brooklyn Bridge Park – initially we think Ehim has attacked them unwarranted – Venom mixes it up with the Skrulls. He’s much more vicious and in tune with the symbiote than his predecessor. Ehim wants this. He’s mainlining hate and justice. The Skrulls use the sonic’s to separate Ehim from the symbiote – it plays dead – Ehim delivers a diatribe on suicide bombers – re-bond’s and kills the Skrulls in front of bystanders. He takes their weapon, before slinking off aggrieved by the judging looks of onlookers.
- New Origins: Tracking down Flash Thompson to the abandoned building Ehim hands over the deactivated weapon and informs Flash the authorities have been called. Flash implores him to shed the symbiote, but Ehim explains they are a natural bond. Not like Flash. Ehim revels in the dark side of his symbiotic gift. He wants to use it.
- The gist: A new series begins – Ehim’s journey as a symbiote harnessing teen – Angsty, discriminated against and tempted by the hunger of a hate fuelled parasite mixed with his own desire to right wrongs in the social issues of the day, Ehim is as addicted as Eddie ever was. He walks that ever blurred line between being a teenager doing a good thing, and being a monster who might flip and kill someone close if he lets the leash slip too far.
- Key Points: This series would tick these boxes Marvel are currently aiming for – relatable teen protagonist – Flawed anti/hero – culturally backgrounded – Internal struggle – family drama – Jekyll/Hyde dynamic – secret identity – hunted by the authorities as a killer/terrorist.